Great Ways Children Can Help on Thanksgiving

By Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed., author of the Learning About Me & You, Learning to Get Along®, and Being the Best Me!® series

Great Ways Children Can Help on ThanksgivingGathering with family and friends each November can be a time to reflect on all the good people and things in our lives. We enjoy a sense of belonging and connectedness as we celebrate together. Young children are excited to participate and help in these festivities that bring people together—whether that includes visiting with guests and seldom-seen family or just having more time together with parents and siblings. Here are some ways to include them and let them feel the joy of helping.

Preparing Holiday Food

When my three-year-old granddaughter visits, she loves to be involved in the kitchen. She goes immediately to the bottom drawer that holds her small apron and puts it on so she can help. We get out the stepping stool for her to safely work at the counter. She especially loves to use a plastic “kid’s knife” to slice bananas for our fruit salad.

Most young children enjoy helping around food—especially when it means taste-testing! Here are a few age-appropriate tasks for children to help out in the kitchen.

  • Help set the table with flatware, napkins, plates, or glasses.
  • Rinse fruit and vegetables.
  • Tear lettuce for a salad.
  • Cube bread with a plastic or butter knife.
  • Mash potatoes with a hand masher.
  • Help measure and pour ingredients into a bowl or blender.
  • Stir food in a bowl.
  • Assemble a dish. (For instance, cut rounds of tomato, zucchini, and yellow squash. Let your child form a pattern while laying the slices in a casserole dish. Your child can also sprinkle on Italian spices and cover with foil. Bake for about 30 minutes at 375°F.)
  • Roll a piecrust. (You might give the child a small piece of dough and mini pan to work with.)

In addition, children can help with cleanup. They also usually love to help with shopping for the meal. Tell them an item or two from your list that they can help you find and put in the cart.

Preparing Decorations

Children can also help create a festive ambiance by making a centerpiece, place mats, or place cards for the table. Try one of these simple ideas this year.


  • Cut a small round hole in an apple or orange. Let your child place a battery-operated candle inside. Put one or more on a platter and fill the space with gathered leaves or branches.
  • With markers, draw faces or other drawings on small pumpkins.
  • Make an “Indian corn” craft by stringing several harvest colors of large-holed plastic beads onto a few pieces of tan chenille craft wire (pipe cleaners). Tie a few strands together to make one cob.

Place Mats

  • Put a few large leaves under a piece of construction paper. Rub crayons over the paper to see the leaf shapes.
  • Help your child trace, cut, and paste orange pumpkin shapes onto a neutral-colored piece of construction paper.

Place Cards

  • Collect pine cones and lay one by each plate. Write a guest’s name on a small card and insert the card into the grooves of the pine cone.
  • Put an apple or pear by each place setting. Write each person’s name on a card. Punch a hole and attach a short loop of yarn to the card, and wrap it around the fruit stem.

Gratitude Ideas

Start a family tradition of listing things that each person is grateful for. Here are a few ways a child can help.

Pass Out Materials

Young children can help pass out paper and pens to everyone gathered and can draw or dictate their own “thankful” lists.

Make a “Thankful Tree”

Put branches in a clear vase or jar. Let your child help you cut out leaf shapes from construction paper, hole punch them, and add a piece of yarn. Let guests write what they are thankful for on a leaf and add them to the tree. This would also make a great centerpiece.

Take Pictures

You might let your child help you record the day by taking pictures of those gathered. Have the pictures printed and let your child make a poster or album of the day, or view pictures online. Also, take pictures of your child helping throughout the day, so your child can see all ways they contributed.

Service Ideas

Involving children in an act of service can help them develop an awareness of and compassion for others as well as gratitude for what they have. Here are a few ideas for how children might help someone else.

Send a Card, Drawing, or Letter

Help children write a note to distant relatives or a special friend. This thoughtful gesture by a child can help someone know that they are missed.

Support a Food Drive

Let your child select some cans or dry goods at the store or in your cupboards that you can donate to a food drive. Your child can help you count the items as you pack them to deliver to a food kitchen. You might even take your child with you to deliver the food. Point out to children that they are not only helping you. The food will help someone who is hungry.

Visit a Senior Center

Many elderly people are not near their families over the holidays and are rejuvenated at the sight of young people. You might bring a handmade card to give to someone at the senior center or practice a song beforehand that you can sing together to someone there. Let your child know how much they have helped someone who might be lonely and in need of a friendly smile.

Show Appreciation for Community Helpers

Many community helpers need to be on duty during Thanksgiving. With your child, make and take a treat to a police station, fire station, clinic, or hospital. Let your child say, “Thank you,” and show appreciation for community helpers such as police officers, firefighters, doctors, nurses, or veterans who help them.

Cheri MeinersCheri J. Meiners, M.Ed., has her master’s degree in elementary education and gifted education. A former first-grade teacher, she has taught education classes at Utah State University and has supervised student teachers. Cheri and her husband David have six children and enjoy the company of their lively grandchildren. They live in Laurel, Maryland.

Free Spirit book series by Cheri Meiners:


Being The Best Me

Learning About Me and You

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